Progressive Democrats are resisting significant changes in “entitlement” programs, like Social Security and Medicare, the New York Times reported (11/27). Two staunch liberals, Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.), said in a letter to President Obama that he should “reject changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to states, alter the structure of these critical programs, or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction.”
More than 40 House members, led by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also declared in a resolution that any deal on taxes and spending “should not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carner made clear (11/26) that the administration was not considering changes to the retirement program as part of the deficit talks. “We should address the drivers of the deficit, and Social Security is not currently a driver of the deficit,” Carney said.
Obama and some Democrats in Congress say they are willing to squeeze savings from Medicare by trimming payments to drug companies, hospitals and other health care providers. They have generally ruled out structural changes that would increase costs for a typical beneficiary, Robert Pear noted in the Times.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), founder of the Senate Defending Social Security Caucus, applauded the White House for taking Social Security off the table in the talks. In September he sent a letter to the White House with signatures of 28 of his Democratic Senate colleagues declaring that Social Security should not be a part of any “Grand Barton.”
Joan McCarter of DailyKos.com noted that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who didn’t sign the September letter, signaled in a speech at the liberal Campaign for American Progress (11/27) that Democrats should leave “entitlements” off the table in the fiscal talks. “Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Medicare and Medicaid but those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff,” Durbin said, according to excerpts provided to Politico.com. The Illinois Democrat reiterates the view of many in his party that Social Security isn’t a driver of the nation’s deficit. And he insisted that current beneficiaries be protected from changes to any program.
“Considering Durbin’s close relationship with President Obama, this is even more reassuring, at least for the short term. But winning this short-term battle against austerity would be the first step in winning the war,” McCarter noted.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he won’t be part of any negotiations that include Social Security.
[By the way, TPP doesn’t have any problem calling Social Security and Medicare “entitlement” programs. If you’ve paid for the benefits through the payroll tax, you’re entitled to them and Republicans aren’t entitled to deny your benefits. But call your senators to say that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits should not be cut as part of a budget deal.]
TEABAGGERS IMAGINE LAST CHANCE TO OUST OBAMA. Some Teabaggers still haven’t given up on a last-ditch plan to deny President Obama’s re-election. A state senator from north-central Idaho is touting a scheme that’s been circulating on tea party blogs, calling for states that supported Mitt Romney to refuse to participate in the Electoral College. The Spokane, Wash., Spokesman-Review reported (11/27) that Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood) relayed an article via Twitter that proposed “A ‘last chance’ to have Mitt Romney is President in January (it’s still not too late).” The article, by Judson Phillips, a former Shelby County, Tenn., assistant district attorney and founder of Tea Party Nation, claims that if 17 of the 24 states that Romney carried refuse to participate in the Electoral College, it would have no quorum, throwing the presidential selection to the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
The problem with that, noted David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, is that there is no quorum in the Electoral College. If no candidate receives a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes/Obama has 332), the decision moves to the House, where each state would have one vote and a quorum of two-thirds of the states would be required. “The two-thirds reference in the 12th Amendment is a reference not to the Electoral College but rather to the establishment of a quorum in the House of Representatives,” he told the Spokesman-Review. “The author touted by Sen. Nuxoll is confusing the Electoral College with the House of Representatives.”
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE KEPT 2.3M JOBLESS OUT OF POVERTY. America’s unemployment insurance program is not as robust as those in many industrialized nations, but the program that is speeding toward massive reductions if Congress doesn’t extend it before the end of the year still kept 2.3 mln Americans out of poverty in 2011, cutting the number of Americans who were entered the ranks of poverty last year in half, according to the National Employment Law Project, which is calling on Congress to re-authorize the federal unemployment compensation program before the end of the year.
Travis Waldron noted at ThinkProgress.org (11/22) that unemployment insurance is generally handled by the states, but because long-term unemployment was exacerbated during the Great Recession, Congress enacted the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in 2008. If the federal program isn’t extended by the end of the year, 2 mln Americans could lose unemployment benefits, and another 1 mln will join them in the early part of 2013. More than 500,000 recipients lost benefits earlier this year because of the way the program is administered and because Congress reduced eligibility for it.
Republicans have pushed against past extensions of the program, arguing that it creates a culture of dependency on federal benefits that reduce the incentive to find work. But the federal program requires workers to search for jobs, and studies have shown that recipients look harder for jobs than those who don’t receive benefits, Waldron noted. Meanwhile, in industrialized nations, there is no proof that more generous unemployment insurance programs lead to higher levels of employment: Greece’s unemployment rate, for instance, has soared even though it has one of the least generous programs in the world, while Israel boasts both a generous unemployment program and a falling unemployment rate.
FLA. GOP EXES CONFESSES PLOT TO SUPPRESS VOTING. A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants told the Palm Beach Post (11/25).
When they proposed the law, Republican leaders said it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory, the Post reported.
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which partystaffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours. “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told the Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. ... ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ “ Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants. “They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com’s Politics Blog (11/26), “Remember that well-received little aside in the president’s election-night address: ‘And we’re gonna do something about that, too’? OK, Eric Holder, it’s time. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature conspired to restrict the franchise no less surely than did the local election officials in Mississippi in 1961. Ball’s in your court.”
WORKER UNREST AT WALMART. By most accounts, worker actions at Walmart on “Black Friday” (11/23) were a rousing success, Kathleen Geier noted at WashingtonMonthly.com. Organizers say there were strikes at 1,000 stores in 46 states; hundreds of workers walked off the job, and they were joined by hundreds of other activists and community supporters. Based on reports by The Nation’s Josh Eidelson, the Wal-Mart actions sound like they were a lot of fun: at rallies, there were light shows, mic checks, and subversive Christmas carols (“I saw Walmart fire Santa Claus,” “Deck the aisles with living wages”).
Organizers say the Walmart strikes, combined with earlier, immigrant-led actions against abusive practices at Walmart suppliers, are part of a strategy of gradual escalation that will be the “new permanent reality” for Wal-Mart: keeping the pressure on, and throwing a harsh national spotlight on the retailer’s bottom-feeding, exploitative labor practices, Geier noted.
“Why do these actions matter? First of all, there’s the brute fact of Walmart’s enormous size and power. Walmart is the third largest public corporation in the world, and also the world’s largest private employer, and largest retailer. And as historians like Bethany Moreton have pointed out, when it comes to its employees, Walmart, with its roots in the culture of the agrarian South, has always taken an anti-modern, deeply feudalistic and patriarchal approach. Its economic model is based on low-wage labor, and it has been notable as one of the most vehemently anti-union employers in American history. Since Walmart is such a behemoth, and since its ideology is so passionately anti-labor, it has been one of the driving forces in our economy that has been disempowering and immiserating American workers and accelerating economic inequality.”
A few shocking stats from internal Walmart documents recently released: low-level workers at Walmart generally start at only $8 per hour, and, even if their evaluations are flawless, are eligible for a yearly raise that is, at maximum, 60 cents per hour. Most workers get only 20 to 40 cents, and the average worker, after working there for six years, would only make $10.60 an hour.
“Wal-Mart, clearly, is the labor movement’s great white whale, and to the extent labor can make headway and improve working conditions there, it bodes well for its potential to change things for the better for the rest of American workers. I am, therefore, strongly encouraged, that the United Food and Commercial Workers, which helped organize the protests, seems now to finally be taking a bolder approach, where Wal-Mart is concerned,” she wrote.
The effort could use more support from national elected officials. Geier noted that the only members of Congress who showed up at the protests were once and future Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). “The stronger such a movement is, the more likely it is that Democratic leaders will start supporting its objectives,” she wrote. “And in the long run, that will lead to more social justice for us all.”
US SEES BIGGEST ABORTION DECREASE IN A DECADE. Abortions fell 5% in 2009 “in the biggest one-year decrease in at least a decade,” apparently because of increased use of contraception, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported (Nov. 21). Researchers are attributing the reduction to the recession and increased use of more effective methods of birth control.
While many states have aggressively restricted access to abortion, most of those laws were adopted in the past two years and are not believed to have played a role in the decline, Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press noted.
The CDC used numbers from 43 states and two cities that voluntarily send in data. Experts estimate that there are more than 1 mln abortions nationwide each year, but the CDC counted about 785,000 in 2009 because of incomplete reporting. Researchers found that abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age fell from 16 in 2008 to roughly 15 in 2009 — or 38,000 fewer abortions in one year. Mississippi, with the nation’s highest teen birth rate but only a couple abortion providers, had the lowest abortion rate, at 4 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age, Stobbe reported.
ALT PARTIES MAKE THEIR MARKS. Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, former Republican governor of New Mexico, took 1.25 mln votes, nearly 1% of the total. It was the most votes ever gained by a Libertarian candidate, the Washington Post reported in “The Fix” blog (11/20), though Ed Clark in 1980 got a slightly greater percentage of the vote, 1.06%.
Green candidate Jill Stein got 452,568 votes, 0.36% of the total, according to USElectionAtlas.org (11/27). Other candidates polled 425,378 votes (0.34%).
In Senate races, Libertarian candidates pulled around 6% of the vote in two key contests in Montana and Indiana — the party’s best showings in three-way Senate races in at least the last decade, according to the Post. David Nir noted at DailyKos.com (11/15) that in those two races and seven others, the Libertarian candidate’s share of the vote was actually bigger than the victorious Democrat’s margin of victory.
Ballot Access News noted at ballot-access.org (11/20) that Libertarian registration has increased 20% nationwide in the last eight months and Libertarians polled more than 1 mln votes for congressional candidates, even though they had no general-election candidates in California because the new “top two” election system eliminated all but the top two finishers from the open primary in each race.
The top Green finisher in seven US Senate races were Martin Pleasant in Tennessee with 37,925 votes for 1.6% of the total and David Collins of Texas with 67,791 votes (0.9%), according to GreenPartyWatch.org. Greens got 381,225 votes for US House candidates (including votes cast for six Green candidates in the first round of the California primary).
On Nov. 6, 25 minor party and independent candidates were elected to state legislatures, Ballot Access News reported (11/18). It is the highest such number since 1942, when 31 minor party or independent candidates were elected.
SPECIAL PAYMENTS DRIVE POSTAL SERVICE LOSSES. The Postal Service reported a record $15.9 bln loss for the fiscal year (11/15), but that loss included $11.1 bln in accounting expenses for two payments the agency was supposed to make to prepay retiree health benefits 75 years into the future.
In 2006, in an apparent attempt to bust the postal workers’ unions and privatize the mail industry, George W. Bush signed a Republican bill that bars the Postal Service from offering non-postal services that might help it offset the loss of first-class mail revenue to the Internet. The bill also required the Postal Service to pre-fund 100% of its entire future obligations for 75 years of health benefits to its employees — and do it within 10 years. As the Postal Service’s defenders have noted, no other organization, public or private, has to pre-fund 100% of its future health benefits, but that mandate costs USPS $5.5. bln a year.
Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Mail Carriers, noted that efficiencies in the postal service and an 8.7% increase in shipping revenues had reduced the deficit in postal operations from $4.9 bln in 2011 to just $2.2 bln in 2012, on operating revenues of $65.7 bln and expenses of $67.9 bln, but since 2006 the Postal Service has been forced to put aside $47 bln that could help the agency get out of the hole. “The mandate has depleted Postal Service funds, forcing the USPS to give up any quarterly or annual profits, empty its bank accounts and exhaust its borrowing authority — not to modernize its vehicle fleet but rather to satisfy an unfair political mandate,” Rolando said. “Without pre-funding, the Postal Service would have tens of billions of dollars in the bank, a full line of credit, and would be able to focus on the transitions required by an evolving society.”
The Senate in a bipartisan vote in April passed a reform bill that would modernize the Postal Service, save tens of thousands of postal jobs and spare rural post offices and scores of mail sorting plants threatened with closure. It also would allow the Postal Service to recoup $11 bln it has overpaid into an employee pension fund. It would prevent USPS from eliminating Saturday mail delivery for at least two years and create a commission to allow the Postal Service to become more entrepreneurial. But Republican House leaders has taken no action on the bill and it’s unclear if it will be taken up in the lame-duck session.
TEN FACTS ABOUT THE POSTAL SERVICE:
1) The Postal Service employs 130,000 veterans. That includes 49,000 disabled veterans.
2) It is the single largest business with a union workforce.
3) It receives no money from taxes (which cannot be said of large oil companies and corporations that outsource jobs to foreign countries).
4) The Postal Service is established in the Constitution before the Army, Navy, roads and the right to declare war.
5) It is the second-largest employer behind Walmart.
6) The post office is the spark plug to the mailing industry, a $1 trillion industry that employs 8 million workers.
7) The press, whose freedom also leads the Bill of Rights, depends upon the Postal Service to deliver periodicals.
8) The mailing industry is 9% of the Gross National Product.
9) The Postal Service offers next-day mail delivery across town or across the country within a week for 45 cents. That same service by FedEx costs from $7.65 to $60.90.
10) Congress in 2006 required the Postal Service to prepay health insurance and retirement costs for employees who haven’t been born yet!
(Revised from a list by SaveOurPostOffice.us.)
SUPREME COURT WON’T STOP COP RECORDING. The US Supreme Court declined to review a case from an appeals court that struck down an Illinois law making it a felony to videotape police officers performing their public duties, Eric W. Dolan noted at RawStory.com (11/26). So if you see a Chicago cop whaling away on a civilian, feel free to record it on your cell phone, at least until the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses its temporary order.
The 7th Circuit, US Court of Appeals in May had temporarily blocked enforcement of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act earlier this year, ruling in Anita Alvarez vs. ACLU of Illinois that the ban on recording police actions restricted "far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests." Last year, an Illinois man faced a felony charge and up to 15 years in prison for recording a traffic stop using his cell phone. The charges against him were later dropped.
KOS: GOP CAN’T WIN LATINOS. Some Republicans are confident that they can win back support from Latinos, whose 71% to 27% margin for President Obama played a major role in his re-election victory over Mitt Romney. Charles Krauthammer, who was last seen predicting a Romney victory, is now saying “[Hispanics] should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example).” In his Washington Post column (11/8), Krauthammer added, “The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants. In securing the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney made the strategic error of (unnecessarily) going to the right of Rick Perry. Romney could never successfully tack back.”
But Markos Moulitsas, Latino-American founder of DailyKos.com, noted (11/26) that nearly 67,000 Latinos turn 18 every month, according to Pew, with 93% of them US citizens and eligible to vote. “Couple that with the over 100,000 elderly (and predominantly conservative) whites who die each month, and you’re looking at over 3 million new potential Latino voters, and nearly 5 million fewer white voters. In just four years.
Or put it another way: Texas will be a swing state by 2024, according to an analysis of demographic trends and voting results by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. If current demographic trends continue, Richard Dunham wrote for the Texas Hearst newspapers (11/12), Democrats would whittle about 5.5 percentage points off the 15.8-point margin of victory won by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 in every subsequent presidential cycle. That would transform Texas — the center of Republican resistance to Barack Obama’s agenda — into a competitive state at the presidential level by 2020 and a toss-up state four years later. “I think 2020 is a reasonable time frame for Texas to become truly competitive, particularly if Republicans don’t begin to cut into the Democratic advantage with Hispanic voters,” GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak told Dunham.
“So yeah, the Right has suddenly rediscovered math, and they have every reason to be freaked out. Panicked really,” Moulitsas wrote.
He noted that while Latinos are “entrepreneurial” and “hard-working,” the Pew poll found Latinos are the most negative group toward capitalism, seeing it as negative by a 55-32 margin. “A Republican message geared toward rewarding the richest will never resonate with Latinos. Never,” Moulitsas wrote.
And while Latinos are among the most family-obsessed cultures, he noted, that has little bearing on what Krauthammer considers a conservative value. Yes, Latinos are strongly Catholic. But while 48% of all respondents favor marriage equality, that support was 59% among Latinos. And while 59% of all Americans think abortion should be legal, Latinos clocked in at 66%. And a Latino Decisions poll found that 66% of Latinos think government should ensure that all people have access to health insurance, compared with exit polls that showed 49% of voters wanted some or all of Obamacare repealed.
Moulitsas also played down the role of immigration in turning Latinos Democratic. “Latino Decisions found that immigration was the number one issue for respondents. But is that the reason they vote Democratic? There is absolutely no evidence of that, and in fact, it would be counterintuitive to say so given everything above. Latinos are more socially liberal than the public, they champion social services that help them take care of their families, they are more hostile to a capitalistic system that systematically screws them over, and they aren’t idiots — they hear the hateful shit conservatives say about them. And yes, they are so ‘family-oriented’ that they don’t want their family carted off in handcuffs by immigration officials,” he wrote.
“Fact is, Latinos don’t believe government should enter their homes and bedrooms, but they do believe it can help create jobs and level an unfair economic playing field. In other words, Latinos believe in exactly the opposite of what Republicans believe.”
GOP SEES GENERATION GAP. Republicans also face problems with young voters. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press noted that exit polls showed President Obama won 60% of the voters younger than 30. That was down from 2008, when Obama won 66% of the youth vote, but the support may have been more important to his victory this year. Obama edged John McCain 50% to 49% among voters 30 and older in 2008 but trailed Romney 50-48 this year. And despite predictions that young people would not turn out this year, they made up as large a share of the electorate as they did in 2008 (19% in 2012, 18% in 2008).
Jonathan Chait noted at New York Magazine’s Daily Intel blog (11/27) that among the entire 2012 electorate, more voters described themselves as conservative (35%) than liberal (25%) and more said the government is already doing too much that should be left to the private sector (51%). But by a 59% to 37% margin, voters under 30 say the government should do more to solve problems and 33% of voters under 30 identified themselves as liberal, against 26% who called themselves conservative.
Kevin Drum at MotherJones.com (11/27) remembered a 2006 study that showed when a popular president gains the votes of 20-year-olds, those voters tend to retain much of their loyalty to the president’s party for the rest of their lives. The opposite happens with an unpopular president. “So Democrats spent eight years with a president that 20-somethings liked (Clinton), then Republicans suffered through eight years with a president they hated (Bush), and now Democrats have eight years of a president that 20-somethings like again (Obama),” Drum wrote. “That’s 24 years worth of 20-year-olds who are likely to retain a fairly strong loyalty to the Democratic Party.” While this can change, of course, he added, “It’s hard to overstate how big a problem this is for the GOP. These are voters who, generally speaking, don’t hate gay people, don’t hate abortion, and aren’t scared by a nonwhite future. As Charles Murray put it, Republicans are viewed today as ‘the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists.’ Murray seems to think this is unfair, but I don’t see why. Until and unless this changes, this huge cohort of voters is likely to remain largely in the Democratic camp.”
ONE-PARTY RULE EXPANDS. At least 37 states will fall under single-party control come January, with one party holding the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative chambers, the New York Times reported (11/22), “raising the prospect that bold partisan agendas — on both ends of the political spectrum — will flourish over the next couple of years.”
As a result of November’s election, 24 states will be completely controlled by Republicans, while at least 13 states will be Democratic. Power will be divided evenly in just 12 capitals — the fewest since 1952. Democrats won more of “the roughly 6,000 state legislative seats that were up for grabs,” adding “more than 150 legislative seats.”
California Democrats won a coveted two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature for the first time in more than a century, but when Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) was asked what he intended to do with his caucus’ new power, the Los Angeles Times reported, he responded with one word: Nothing.
Digby commented at digbysblog.blogspot.com (11/25), “You see, they are afraid that they will lose their new supermajority if they do anything — the supermajority they have always needed in order to do anything.”
STARTUP EYES CURRENT TV TAKEOVER. An Austin startup has its eye on buying Current TV, the struggling network co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore. SocialGood.TV CEO Stephen Vogelpohl told the Austin American-Statesman (11/27) that stakeholders in the Austin film and digital industries are talking about putting a deal together to acquire Current and shift it from left-leaning programming to a more middle-of-the-road focus.
Executives at Current, launched in 2005, began considering offers for the little-watched network this fall, according to published reports. The network's lineup includes shows hosted by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, ex-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, current California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and “The View’s” Joy Behar into 71 mln homes worldwide – 60 mln of them in the US. Its 2011 ad revenue was an estimated $16.9 mln, according to the New York Post.
Representatives at Current didn’t respond to a message from the *American-Statesman* seeking comment, but CEO Joel Hyatt told the New York Post in late October that Current “has been approached many times by media companies interested in acquiring our company. This year alone, we have had three inquiries. As a consequence, we thought it might be useful to engage expertise to help us evaluate our strategic options.”
If SocialGood.TV is able to mount a successful bid, Vogelpohl told the American-Statesman the network’s focus would likely shift away from politics to “causes outside of legislation.”
“Making communities stronger isn’t a left or a right issue,” he said. “We’d want the programming to be more inclusive, educating through entertaining.”
From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2012
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